While digital imaging has become the 800-pound gorilla of the photographic world, large-format photography is alive and well.
Smaller-scale, 6x9-ish cameras, better suited for digital capture, have caught the fancy of tabletop and architectural shooters who have weaned themselves from film.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's a renaissance of ever-larger format film-based cameras for those that refuse to bow to the "D" word.
The accompanying roundup of current offerings and additional product websites makes it clear that the fat lady will have to cool her jets in the wings for the foreseeable future . . .
Cambo Ultima 35
Though not a large-format camera in the traditional sense, the Cambo Ultima 35 is a wonderful example of pushing the limits of D-SLRs. Mounted to the rear standard of a Cambo Ultima 35, a digital SLR becomes an alternative to a medium-format roll-film back. The Cambo Ultima 35 allows for tethered or untethered shooting with equal ease. You can mount most any lens to the front lens board and use the camera's shutter to capture exposures. Most lenses allow for about 20mm of shift and 15mm of tilt movement, or about 50 percent image movement on axis in any direction. TTL metering is performed within the camera without need of figuring bellows factor into the equation. Compatible DSLRs include Canon's EOS-1Ds, 1D, and 10D, Kodak's DSC Pro SLR/n and SLR/c, and via an optional adapter, Nikon's D1x and Fujifilm's FinePix S2 Pro.
Corey Radlund uses his Cambo Ultima 35 in a variety of configurations depending on the nature of his assignment. "If I did not have five Sinar p2s in my studio and was starting over, I would start with the Cambo Ultima. The ability to use a digital SLR, and [later] convert it to accept a sliding back for our Megavision systems is an outstanding feature. It is probably the most versatile system out there."
I shoot digitally, but I learned photography on a Deardorff. To this day, I stop what I'm doing when I see a clean one. Deardorffs established themselves as a standard of the industry at a time when you bought a camera as a long-term investment, a camera you'd be using for a few decades. Every part, down to the smallest screws, was manufactured in-house. As a photographic tool, Deardorffs are laid out sensibly with all camera controls positioned where they should be. Running the show from under the dark cloth is an easy task. Though no longer in production, a clean camera will run a minimum of $1,200 to $1,500 for a 4x5 and $2,000-plus for an 8x10. Note: There have never been any firmware upgrades for Deardorffs, nor will there ever be.
Even if you have zero intention of ever shooting digital, you have to appreciate the thought process behind Linhof's 679cc Digital/Roll Film camera system. Fitted with a Hasselblad back or any number of medium-format digital capture backs, Linhof's 679cc offers precision large-format micro-geared, self-locking tilt-shift controls in a smaller, lighter package. Perfectly at home in the studio, the Linhof performs equally well out in the wilds.
Polaroid 20x24 Studio Camera
Though not new, Polaroid's 20x24" remains unique in every sense.
Greg Heisler, who often uses a Polaroid 20x24, says, "I can conceive images for the Polaroid 20x24 that I wouldn't even consider and certainly couldn't execute with any other camera. Period. I can have a disarmingly direct, intensely intimate, yet surprisingly spontaneous rapport with my portrait subjects because I don't have a camera mashed up against my face, as I would with 35mm format. Nor am I staring into my shoes, as I would likely be with a medium-format camera. In fact, once I've framed and focused, I can stand free of the camera and connect, unfettered by it, with my subject."
Heisler especially likes the imaging qualities of Polaroid's 20x24 for portraits. "It has tremendous presence for my portrait subjects, allowing a degree of focus control simply unachievable with any smaller format due purely to the laws of optics applied at that scale." As for image quality, it has often been described as beyond real.
If large-format photography is the center of your universe, a Sinar p3 is as close to digital camera heaven as you can get. Attach a Sinarback 54 to the rear standard along with a digital lens from Sinar, Schneider, or Rodenstock on the front standard, and you'll have a precision 645-format view camera. As for image quality, the Sinar p3/Sinarback 54-combo might cause you to think twice about shooting 4x5 chromes. Sinar's p3 features yaw-free movements with asymmetric swings and tilts, and self-locking micro-geared movements. Electronic contacts throughout the camera ensure smooth transfer of data, while eliminating the need for external cables.
Greg Hoffman has been shooting with Toyo field cameras for over 15 years. Lately, he packs a Toyo CF when shooting in and around his hometown of Las Vegas. The CF's lightweight clamshell design and the ability to close the camera with the lens in place is a big plus for Greg. Manufactured from a polycarbonate/carbon-fibre material, the Toyo 45CF is about 40 percent lighter than its all-metal brother and offers most of the movements and image controls as its heavier brethren. An equally lightweight street price of $659 makes the Toyo 45CF an especially attractive buy for hikers, students, and anyone else who wants a field camera they can toss into the bag on a moment's notice.